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Remembering LA Journalist Henry Fuhrmann, A Crusading Wordsmith and Beloved Mentor 

Henry Furhmann sits at a desk in front of a computer with baseball figurines and stacks of paper.
Henry Fuhrmann in his L.A. Times office in a photo he used on Facebook to announce his retirement in 2015. He died Wednesday at the age of 65 after a brief illness.
Courtesy Fuhrmann family )
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Henry Fuhrmann had retired as the top copy editor from the Los Angeles Times when he started a one-man campaign to remove the hyphen when describing Asian Americans and African Americans.

That earned the popular and kind-hearted mentor to scores of young journalists of color the fearsome moniker of “Hyphen Killer," which Fuhrmann cheerfully accepted.

Fuhrmann argued against hyphens in a widely-circulated 2018 essay that has been credited with getting mainstream journalism to let go of stubbornly-held conventions in referring to heritage.

Hyphens “serve to divide even as they are meant to connect,” he wrote. “Their use in racial and ethnic identifiers can connote an otherness, a sense that people of color are somehow not full citizens or fully American.”

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Fuhrmann, who died Wednesday at 65 after a brief illness, spent his career trying to improve the craft of journalism and encourage news outlets to use unambiguous and fair wording, like in instances of race and gender.

In a message to friends and loved ones who'd been following his condition, his family reported Thursday:

"We are heartbroken to report that our dear Hank died yesterday. It was early evening, and he was surrounded by his closest family members... He went peacefully."

A Changemaker

The year after Fuhrmann’s essay ran, the Associated Press changed its guidance on “dual-heritage” in its stylebook. Other newsrooms — including our own — followed suit.

It was among Fuhrmann’s important victories. While at the Times, where he worked for 24 years, he pushed the newsroom to drop “transvestite” and use “transgender.”

Fuhrmann — whose mother was from Japan — had also convinced other journalists to stop describing the incarceration of more than 120,000 Japanese Americans during World War II as “internment” – a term he called inaccurate and euphemistic.

His door was always open.
— Teresa Watanabe
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Teresa Watanabe, a Times education reporter and close friend of Fuhrmann, said she joined his mission to ditch the use of “internment” because it "technically applied to enemy aliens who were actually given hearings before a military board, whereas the Japanese Americans who were incarcerated were never given any hearings."

Watanabe said she and Fuhrmann also bonded over their passion for the Asian American Journalists Association and that he was committed to guiding younger reporters and editors at the Times.

"His door was always open," Watanabe said. "If you just wanted to go in and shoot the breeze or if you had a problem, he would stay there late until eight or nine just to be with you."

His Work With AAJA

Even though he was not feeling well when AAJA held its annual convention in L.A. last month, Fuhrmann was determined to attend, Watanabe said.

“He was there for the Voices program, where our college students present their projects, and he was just having the time of his life,” she said.

Fuhrman joked in an interview with AAJA for its 40th anniversary oral history project that he had become a gray-haired elder in the organization but he drew inspiration from his younger colleagues, some of whom had gone on to lead newsrooms themselves.

“They're the future and the present,” Fuhrmann said. “And they are full of ideas and energy, and I feel, if not younger, I feel energized around my fellow members.”

Reaction To His Death

Over the last day, tributes to Fuhrmann have poured in online from all the journalists he influenced and befriended over the last three decades.

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